Like the Egyptians at the same time, Bronze Age Sumerians and Iranians around 3000-2500 BC devoted a lot of energy to building big buildings. But unlike the Pyramids, which are tombs for dead Pharaohs, the Sumerian and Iranian ziggurats (ZIG-oo-rats) are temples for their gods.
Ziggurats were built out of mud-brick
Because good building stone is hard to find in the river valley of the Euphrates River where the Sumerians lived, the Sumerians mostly did not build in stone. Instead, they built their ziggurats (and also their houses and city walls) out of mud-brick, or adobe.
Ziggurats are tall platforms
Mesopotamian ziggurats are very high buildings. You start by making a big flat platform of mud-brick, and then you make a slightly smaller platform on top of the first one, and another on top of that, until the platform is just a little bigger than a temple, and then you build the temple at the very top, like a sand-castle. Maybe Mesopotamian people thought it was better to pray to the gods from as close as possible, and so if the gods lived up in the sky you had to build great platforms to get near them.
Ziggurats are solid inside, like sand-castles
Of course it isn’t very hard to build a very impressive building this way: it is solid all the way through, like a sand-castle, so it is easy to get it to stay up.
The tower of Babel was a ziggurat
The Jews thought it was a very bad idea to try to reach all the way up to God like that, and their hatred of the Mesopotamian ziggurats is reflected in the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, people tried to build a ziggurat that would reach all the way up to Heaven. But God didn’t like that, and he destroyed the ziggurat and scattered the people so they couldn’t try it again. He made them all speak different languages.
When did people stop building ziggurats?
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Learn by doing: build a big sand-castle with smaller levels stacked on top of bigger ones.
The Sumerians, by Elaine Landau (1997). Easy reading. Despite the bad Amazon rating, this is a good solid introduction to the Sumerians, with an explanation of prehistory at the beginning for context. Pictures of ancient stuff, and good maps.
The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, by Henri Frankfort (5th edition 1997). The standard for college art history classes.